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March 11, 2013

“We can readily see that except for certain types of missions, the manned combat aircraft will become technically obsolete in the future.”
– Major General David Baker, 1956

“The greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation. It is from drones and their certain proliferation.”
– Simon Jenkins, writing in The Guardian (UK), 2013

“How easily people can fool themselves into believing wars can be won by some wonderful invention rather than by hard fighting and superior leadership.”
– General George S. Patton Jr.

The introduction of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs) as a key tool in the U.S. war on terrorism has generated intense debate in previous weeks, ranging from the morality of their use in war, a renewed discussion of the dangers of collateral damage and “blowback” resulting from the strategy, to fears of broader applications of RPAs both domestically and in future wars should they proliferate.  to date, the conversation has largely been dominated by extreme positions, arguing either that RPAs represent a new ‘revolution in military affairs’ with the potential to upend  established military power, to defensive positions identifying the limited capabilities of current RPAs and suggesting the absence of pilots on aircraft changes little in the international security environment.  This blog will examine the RPA debate in the context of both existing military doctrine and broader academic theory, with the primary goal of identifying in a thoughtful and reasoned manner what the true implications are of the RPA innovation.

In terms of terminology, the designation RPA is used intentionally as it differentiates the existing technology from “drones,” which implies a lack of sophistication and pre-programming, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which would consist of fully automated aircraft.  Both of these are separate issues with unique sets of potential concern (to be elaborated on in future posts).  This designation does focus on aircraft specifically rather than the full systems (RPA and UAV versus RPS and UAS), but as the emphasis on remotely piloted is emphasized that designation should include with it for the reader the understanding that each RPA has a long chain of personnel involved in each mission independent of the airframe itself.

All content in this blog is derived from open source material and does not reflect the positions of any entity outside of the blog itself.

Ehrhard, T. (2010, July). Air Force UAVs: The Secret History. Retrieved January 11, 2013, from The Mitchell Center:

Jenkins, S. (2013, January 10). Drones are fool’s gold: they prolong wars we can’t win. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from The Guardian (UK):

Pryor, C. A. (n.d.). From First to Wurst: The Erosion and Implosion of German Technology in WWII. Retrieved January 8, 2013, from Air Force Logistics Management Agency:


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